PORT RENFREW, B.C. — Mounties arrested five people at anti-logging blockades on southern Vancouver Island as they enforced a court injunction Tuesday.
Dozens of RCMP officers converged on a series of camps along a remote logging road to begin the process of clearing the site for forest workers.
The officers stood outside at least two protest sites and read the details of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction prohibiting the protests in the forests near Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew.
Staff Sgt. Jason Charney, who read the terms of the injunction issued by the court on April 1, told protesters the warning was a chance for people to leave on their own terms.
“We’ll be back in 20 minutes,” Charney said.
Protesters have been camping in the Fairy Creek watershed northeast of Port Renfrew since August, drawing attention to what they say is the last unprotected, intact old-growth forest valley on southern Vancouver Island.
Others have been maintaining blockades further north in the Caycuse area, west of Cowichan Lake, since Easter.
Officers marched back to the Caycuse camp gates, which included a large culvert pipe blocking the road and a makeshift teepee, and arrested two people.
“I came here to protect the old growth trees, simply put,” said Mitchell Steinke as he strummed a guitar and sang songs about trees.
Steinke and Vancouver Island resident Val Embree, a grandmother, who described herself as a longtime forests protector, were arrested and led away by police.
Minutes later at a second camp, RCMP arrested a man and woman but not before having to remove the couple from a road gate to which they had chained themselves.
“I feel like industry and government have put shackles around our people,” said Rainbow Eyes, an Indigenous woman from Knight Inlet. “I’m so happy to stand up for the trees.”
Police asked Eyes and Brandon Busby, who was also chained to the gate, if they wanted to leave the area or face arrest.
Both said they wanted to be arrested.
Police said in a news release that a fifth person was arrested after refusing to leave and all five people were expected to be processed and released by the end of the day Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, more than a dozen police vehicles were seen heading south up the Caycuse Main logging road south of Lake Cowichan.
Police drones were above protest areas and an RCMP helicopter circled overhead. Dozens of supporters stood in the rain, chanting “this is what democracy looks like,” and carried placards with pictures of trees that said, “worth more standing.”
Police are enforcing the injunction that allows Teal-Cedar Products to begin logging activities.
Teal Jones vice-president Gerrie Kotze has said logging plans for the Fairy Creek watershed have been “mischaracterized” because trees can’t be cut in most of it. Harvesting is only planned for a small area far from the San Juan River, he said last month.
Indigenous elder Bill Jones from the nearby Pacheedaht First Nation thanked those who came to oppose logging in his peoples’ traditional territories.
“The hills will be bald in two years if we don’t stop this,” said Jones, while acknowledging many members of his nation do not agree with him and support the financial gain that logging brings.
“We are here to save our great Mother’s gift to us, our old growth.”
Jones said he invited the campers to the territory, meaning they can’t be taken away by the police.
“You are my friends and you are in my camp and you can’t be evicted,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2021.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the name of Sgt. Jason Charney.